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Future Harvest CASA's Beginner Farmer Training Program is now Accepting Applications for Trainers and Trainees!

Click here for the application.

Finding workable land, knowing local resources, and connecting to peers are just a few of the challenges faced by our new generation of farmers. The demand for sustainably grown produce swells each year; it is ever more critical that new farmers get the support they need to grow our food. Enter the Beginner Farmer Training Program (BFTP), a comprehensive, year-long experience designed for farmers who are ready to launch their farms in the Chesapeake region.

The BFTP is unique among farmer training programs across the nation in that it can allow participants to train part time or full time at their farms or jobs, by choosing from several training farms proposing a variety of work schedules.. This framework reflects the philosophy that sustainable farms grow gradually and slowly; participants are encouraged to transition into farming, integrating the skills they learn from the BFTP into their daily lives. It also enables training farmers to adapt their teaching schedule to the specific needs of their farm operation.

The BFTP begins with Future Harvest CASA two-day Annual Conference in January. Participants meet for the first time with trainers and BFTP graduates. The conference encompasses both the business planning and technical production aspects of farming, starting off the participants' year-long process of formulating a business plan for their current or future farm enterprise. Participants continue to attend classes and workshops from January until March; topics include:

Critical Thinking: farm goals, identifying values, long term planning

Marketing: choosing your markets, formulating strategies, reaching your customer base

Business Planning: creating a business plan, using spreadsheets to your advantage

Regulations: requirements for farms in Maryland, understanding different business structures

Crop Plans: preparing for the season, prioritizing farm tasks, assessing potential challenges

Crop Production: crop rotation, understanding soils, sustainable pest and weed control, season extension, time management, post-harvest handling

Financial Opportunities: grants, loans, support systems for farmers

From April until November, each participant trains shoulder to shoulder with a farmer who serves as their trainer. This is an opportunity for participants to ask questions while experiencing their trainers' farm systems. The hands-on training component of the BFTP is invaluable to participants, who not only learn basic facts such as where to buy farm implements and what varieties of seeds are best suited to the Chesapeake climate, but also receive encouragement and inspiration that lend momentum to their own farm enterprise.

Jack Gurley, one of the founders of the program, and long-time Baltimore County farmer at Calvert's Gift Farm, speaks to the mutual importance of the trainer-trainee relationship, saying that "working with this years' farmer trainees reminds me of when I was a new farmer, and how excited I was to learn the craft of farming. This enthusiasm is what makes farming new for me even after 17 years of growing produce." The participants give back to their trainers, bringing energy to the field and opening a dialogue about new farming techniques.

Many graduates of the program are now leaders in the sustainable food community. Christian Melendez, farm manager at ECO City Farms in Prince George’s County, Maryland, speaks of the perspective the BFTP gave: “Just understanding that different farmers may choose to do things different ways gives me confidence to try new things – it’s a different context than just reading it in a book,” Melendez said. Other graduates include Denzel Mitchell of Five Seeds Farm, who is often a spokesperson for urban farming in Baltimore, and Kristen Carbone of Radix Farm, who is now a BFTP trainer. Training farms are available across the state in Frederick, Baltimore, Harford, Prince George’s, and Kent County.

Thanks to a USDA grant provided in partnership with the University of Maryland, the BFTP is not only free to participants, but offers a $2000 farm start-up mini grant to participants that successfully meet its requirements. The grant is critical to Future Harvest's mission, which focuses on creating a variety of tools and resources to support beginning farmers. Alice Chalmers, executive director of Future Harvest, a Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (FHCASA), states that "As the interest in sustainable agriculture and local food has grown, FHCASA has been able to expand the customized assistance it provides to beginner farmers, helping to prepare the people who will choose farming as their career, and contributing to building the next generation of farmers in the Chesapeake Region.” 

This project is supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant #2012-49400-19552, and by the Abell Foundation.